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3 Reasons Why We Should DISCOURAGE Perfectionism


It is very easy to believe that being a perfectionist is a favourable quality. But is it really? Here are three reasons why we should DISCOURAGE perfectionism in children:
  1. Perfectionists are less likely to take risks and try their hand at new things. They often become fearful of failure and if they cannot be the best, they would rather not try at all.
  2. They spend more time completing tasks.  Being the only one in class that hasn’t finished yet, can make a child feel inferior.
  3. Friends or peers may start to feel judged and avoid your child when they don’t live up to his standards.

What to do about it?

-       Distinguish between healthy and unhealthy praise.  (Go here if you missed that post.)

When your child is doing a task, talk about the PROCESS, the CHOICES that he makes and ways in which he can CHALLENGE himself, instead of focusing only on the product and then making general statements that label your child, such as “You are so smart” or “You are a champion artist”. These labels put pressure on children, making them fearful of making mistakes and then losing admiration and respect. Rather, when your child draws a picture, ask questions about the colours he is using and what he plans to do next. When playing ball games, give him the choice of which ball to play with and encourage him to challenge himself: “Why not try kicking the tennis ball and see if you can get as good at it as when you kicked the soccer ball.”

-       Help your child to distinguish between people-orientated and task-orientated situations.

Some people are naturally task-orientated and others are people- orientated. Regardless of your child’s natural preference, it will serve him well to be able to differentiate between these two kinds of situations. This insight will help your child to manage his actions and his emotions better. After all, losing a game of Monopoly should not be viewed in the same light as flunking a test!
Use words to describe the different situations. When people-orientated, say something like:  “Remember that this is about spending time together, having fun and making memories.” And when a situation is task orientated: “We’re not kidding around now; this is a get-down-to-it-and-get-it- done activity”.

In the words of Peggy O’Mara, “The way that you talk to your child, becomes his inner voice.”  When parents mostly talk about the end result, their child’s focus is obviously also directed towards the end result. On the contrary, when you as the parent shift your attention away from the end result towards the process and the choices that can be made, your child’s thoughts will follow suit.

Just to hammer the nail a bit deeper into the coffin of perfectionism, we end with a spirited quote by Anne Lamott:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a sh*#! first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”

 When we know better... we do better

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